Recently, I had a great opportunity to sit down with Tom Jones, the missions and evangelism pastor at First Baptist Church Rocky Mount. It was so encouraging to hear of how God is working among their members to reach out to the international community, specifically international students at a neighboring university. It was my joy to hear of how God is using their efforts. I took some notes during our conversation and I want to pass it all along to you. Hopefully, there are some insights here that will embolden you and your church to enter into a relationship with your neighbors. The nations have arrived at our front door and we want to give you some helpful tools and resources. As Tom below would say, it’s much easier than you think.
Will: Tell us your story, so you’re currently serving as a missions pastor. How did that happen, what steps did God use to lead you down that road?
Tom: I would back up to 2010. It all started on 2 short-term mission trips, one to Haiti and one to Belarus. While on those trips, I felt God was calling me to ministry. My wife and I were doing a Bible study during that time and I felt called to get equipped to handle his word. That’s the best way to summarize how God has called me to share with others about him.
Will: Were you aware of Internationals around your city? How did you discover them?
Tom: Dr. Robinson’s missions class totally reshaped my mindset on reaching the international community here in North America. Some of the statistics of students, the amount of internationals in the US really impacted me. So, I started looking some of those numbers up online. I’ve never really thought about having internationals here in my backyard. To think that some of these guys will never step inside an American home is heartbreaking.
Will: How did you begin the work and what did you do?
Tom: The first step we took was to host some students in my home, to have a meal with them. My church members were already doing that, inviting them into their home. The first time we simply invited these students over (he shows me a picture of a group of international students). I asked a guy, Shobhan if he would introduce me to a traditional Nepali meal. So, he cooked a Nepali dish in our own home for us.
Will: That sounds like a good time. Tell us what happened.
Tom: At first, this this was an assignment for a class. I had to do it. I had to do an international interview for Dr. Robinson’s missions class. In the cross-cultural interview, I came to know him. We had time to sit down for several hours because the meal took over 5 hours to prepare. It gave me the time to get to know this man and it really just started with a simple welcoming them into our home. Fast forward, all these guys have spent considerable time in our home. Shobhan is one of my best friends. He comes over and hangs out with my family. I’ve taken this guy to my hunting club to deer hunt. I’ve had him at my house shooting guns, bows, just lots of things. We hang out on a regular basis. He texts me, “I miss you.” Shobhan and I have a very personal relationship.
Will: So where is Shobhan now, spiritually speaking?
Tom: This man has come to Christ, but he hasn’t made it public yet. He’s got a Hindu family back in Nepal. He has walked verse by verse through the Gospels and the book of Acts. We’re called to proclaim that gospel and to pray for this man and these internationals. I prayed for them to be mightily saved and to then be missionaries in their own communities and country. I began to pray that Shobhan would come to Christ and that he would be the next William Carey of Nepal. So he was going home over Christmas break and I began to pray that God would reveal himself to Shobhan, that the gospel would be real to him. As he went home, I new that he would encounter his family, and I prayed that his Hindu religion would feel wrong. I prayed that he would feel burdened for his family. When he returned, he began to profess his faith in Christ and affirm the gospel. He believed that Christ was raised from the dead and that he believed that he would be raised from the dead. He believed the gospel. In that same conversation, he told our college pastor that when he was in Nepal, he had a giant burden for his family. He knew that something was wrong with Hinduism and he was scared to enter the temple with his family. My prayer was answered. I was praised God because that’s the very prayer that I prayed.
Will: What would you say to other churches about doing this kind of work? How can they get started?
Tom: Take any local college, they are loaded with international students. Churches and individuals need to get out of their comfort zones and find out where these students are. I just had a dinner with 26 of them. I went and found out where they were and I Invited them to dinner. Just one student, they are dying to meet and have relationships with us. I would love to see this happen across the nation, just ordinary people living with gospel intentionality. We’re pushing that idea in our church, to engage people in specific ways to pray for them, inviting them into our home. This international piece just happens to be one piece of that. We’re asking families, couples, and individuals, to come up beside these internationals. We have access to every one of them. We’re trying to connect our members to them, serve them, invite them, and share the gospel with them. Invite the over for a meal. It might mean inviting these students over for a week over their Christmas break, a care package, a phone call of encouragement.